Monday, July 7, 2014

Our Grand Cayman Adventure

The @MaineSkiFamily crew had a great trip to the Caribbean Island of Grand Cayman in June 2014. There is certainly no chance of snow on this island!

My wife Juley and I originally saw this island for a few hours on our honeymoon cruise, and we took a week long 20th wedding anniversary trip to the Cayman's in July 2013. We knew we just had to bring the kids back to see the underwater beauty available 'under the sea' as the Cayman's are a world class snorkeling and diving destination in its crystal clear blue waters. So we figured out a way to make this happen! #justdoit

The short version of our trip is that it was hot as we visited in the summer off season (we are not going to miss winter skiing after all), but the underwater adventures are wondrous. Cayman is not an island that you spend a lot of time on dry land. All the action is on and under the sea. Browse through the pictures below to see some of the sights we saw. For those that what a more in-depth review, and perhaps you found this blog through a Google Search because you are considering a trip of your own, read on for all the details and our tips and insights on the Caymans. A lot of the links below point to Trip Advisor as we find that website quite helpful in deciding what to do and we are frequent contributors to that site.

Travel and Island Transportation 
For our flight, we ended up driving to Boston, and flying to 'Uh - Going to Miami' (Bad Will Smith reference) to Cayman.  Not ideal, as these were pretty long travel days but this was the only way to do it without selling our first born child. We flew American Airlines and it was acceptable. Tip - If you plan to drink a bit buy alcohol duty free in the US airport prior to going to Cayman. For example, a bottle of Kahlua cost $20 duty free in the Miami airport and was close to $46 on the island liquor store. I think you can bring one liter per person into the country.

For Island transportation it depends where you are staying. Grand Cayman is famous for its 'Seven Mile Beach' (SMB) which contains a lot of beach front hotels and amenities. It is busy but very nice for those wanting to be closer to the action. It is how we first experienced Cayman for a few hours on our Honeymoon cruise. I still have very vivid memories of being amazed at the fish swimming around us as we put our flippers on. If you are staying on SMB most of the hotels have shuttles and taxi's so you don't have to rent a car. If you are staying elsewhere on the island - notably the East or North Ends and car rental is advised as this area is more remote. Last year we rented from McCurley's and they pick you up at the airport, stop for groceries and bring you to your hotel / condo where your car is waiting. It was a nice way to get settled in but the car they gave us was kind of a beater. This year we rented from Avis / Cisco and were satisfied with the car and since we already knew our way around the Island it was a piece of cake. Remember - you have to drive on the left in Cayman!

Places to Stay 
Getting Ready for a Rum Point Sunset Kayak
As I mentioned above, there is plenty of places to stay on SMB, but if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle our favorite location is Rum Point. This is located at the northern tip of the island and is our favorite place to snorkel. We stayed at a condo development called The Retreat and we stayed in Unit #21. It is a nice mix of immediate beach access, well appointed air conditioned condo's, pool / game room and on-site management in case you need anything. Last summer we stayed at the Sea Lodges which is a but further down from Rum Point. It was nice but the particular unit had no air conditioning and relied on the island breezes. The breeze was blowing but it was still hot. AC is recommended especially for ski bums not used to the heat. The Rum Point Beach / Restaurant / Bar area is right around the corner, but you would never know it. Even when it is really busy on that side of the point the Retreat is tucked away around the corners shielded from activity, but it is nice to hop over there for a drink and fun if you want!

Snorkel, Snorkel, Snorkel
A Variety of Grunts During our Drift Snorkel
The main attraction for us is the snorkeling opportunities in Cayman. While we focused on Rum Point, there are many places to snorkel in Cayman. A must read is Testudo's Snorkel Guide. It is a non-commercial web site / blog with a wealth of information on snorkeling spots in Grand Cayman with 3 great snorkel trips you can do right off Rum Point. Our favorites were the Rum Point Drift Route and Boulder Coral Gardens. I highly recommending reviewing this website

The Retreat is a great place to learn to
Blue Tangs Right under the Rum Point Dock Close to Shore
snorkel as well. Just 20 yards from the beach is a row of rocks / coral with a wide variety of fish life and you can swim the entire Rum Point dock and probably see Barry the Barracuda. All of this can be done in water you can stand up in if you need to fiddle with your mask or take a break as you get used to snorkeling. Once you get your fins under you per say, you can then venture out to deeper waters to see some pretty amazing coral and fish life. A tip for a fog free mask - diluted baby shampoo. Just put some in the inside of your mask, swish around then dump out but don't rinse! This will keep your mask fog free.

A Queen Angel Fish in Vivid Technicolor
We also rented some kayak's (and our fins) from White Sands Water Sports that allowed us to go out deeper. A few hundred yards from shore of Rum Point there are some white buoys close to the reef edge where you can tie off your kayak's and snorkel with the fish, turtle's and ray's. Don't worry if you flip the kayak when your partner jumps off. They turn over pretty easy as we found out. :-)

The Coral Formations were Quite Remarkable

We didn't see any Nurse Sharks or Moray Eels this trip like we did last year but don't worry, they are harmless if you leave them alone. We did see a turtle, numerous sting rays and probably a 4-5 foot long barracuda along with over 50 species of tropical fish.

We snorkeled a couple of times a day. Earlier in the morning is best as it is less busy with other boats and the waves while never big, are typically calmer. One calm morning we snorkeled all the way out to the first buoy. It is so relaxing and enjoyable. The marine life and water quality is spectacular. Think "bucket list" on this.

Other Things to Do
Probably the most famous attraction is Sting Ray City - an opportunity to swim with wild sting rays on a sand bar in the middle of the North Sound bay. Definitely worth the trip. I highly recommend an early morning trip especially when the cruise ships are in town and again we used White Sand Water Sports for this trip.  After the trip White Sand takes you too a fabulous snorkel location right on the edge of the reef. Here are a couple of pictures and a video from our trip. Another 'bucket list' moment.

You Do Literally Swim with the Sting Rays at Sting Ray City

The Magnificent Southern Sting Ray

And check out our video we made from our Sting Ray City visit!

Cayman is also a great fishing destination and we decided to charter a boat for a half a day via Slackem Charters. While they tried, we just could not get the fish to bite and it ended up being a long and expensive boat ride with some sea sickness to boot. If we were able to get in the fish it would have been a lot of fun but they were just not biting that day. So it is a bit of a roll of the dice if you want to try deep sea fishing.

Places to Eat
We are not super knowledgeable on the dining in Cayman. Since we had a condo we did a lot of eating in the condo to try to save some coin as eating out is quite expensive. However, we did like Over the Edge on the north side as a nice place to eat. Casual, relaxed with great food - especially the seafood - at reasonable prices for Cayman standards. We tried Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville on a trip to Georgetown - Not great. Don't recommend it! Wrong orders (and no orders) delivered after a mega wait! I do think the seafood cuisine in Cayman is excellent and the SMB area has a ton of dining options. The Rum Point Wreck Bar is right around the corner from our condo as was great for afternoon mud slides and other fun drinks! We didn't visit the Rum Point restaurant but it was full every night and has good reviews.

So obviously we had a great trip and would love to go back again some day. It is one place where we can unplug, unwind and relax within minutes of arriving at Rum Point. For those looking to visit Grand Cayman someday I hope you found this blog helpful. If you have any questions don't hesitate to use the comment section!

Friday, May 30, 2014

It's Fishing Season

Now that the snow is gone we are passing the time until next ski season by doing some fishing! I will update this post from time to time as we catch some fish in the great state of Maine.

15" Brook Trout caught early May trolling a Weeping Willow

17" Brown Trout caught late April on a yellow Mepps

Smallmouth Bass caught late May on a Plastic Tube Bait

Alec with a nice fat salmon trolling a Red Devil in early June.
Andrscoggin River smallmouth bass putting up a great fight

Smallmouth Bass in the boat caught on a red and white popper

Smallmouth Bass on a Rainbow Rapala

Saturday, April 26, 2014

How many days to pay off a skiing season pass?

Saddleback Maine's 2014-15 early bird season pass pricing expires April 30. With lift ticket prices going up $10 next year (Adults $69/$59 Juniors $59/$49) evaluating Saddleback's season pass options make a lot of sense in the planning of your recreation dollars.

Every year I go through an analysis of how many times we have to ski to 'pay off' the pass. There are other non-financial benefits to the pass such has not having to stand in a ticket line and they psychological feeling you don't have to ski first chair to last chair. However, Saddleback has quite a few season pass options for your financial consideration..

I am the Sr. Product Manager for a company called Quantrix and we make a multi-dimensional planning software application and it always comes in pretty handy each year when I do this exercise. Here is a screen capture of my results.

The Payoff Days is the key result. This is how many days it would take to "pay off" the season pass when comparison to buying daily lift tickets. You have to make an assumption on how many Saturday Holiday days you will ski at the higher lift ticket prices as that impacts the final result. So for the adults in our family, it will take 11 ski days each year to pay off the pass. Alec and his Maine College pass will be 4 days and Isaac 3 ski days if he makes the honor roll PEAK pass program.

Prices go up April 30!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Perfect Spring Day at Saddleback - April 12, 2014

The @MaineSkiFamily crew at Saddleback
Wow what a perfect spring day at Saddleback today! Temps into the 40's-50's, bright sunshine, burgers and drinks on the deck, skiing in sunglasses, not too much wind and still awesome snow coverage on the trails. We were skiing some lines today we have not been able to ski all year!

Wardens Worry at Saddleback and the View
A modest crowd at Saddleback today enjoying the sunshine and soft snow conditions. Everything was skiing great. I think our ROTD (run of the day) was Governor. The top upper glade (which is not open all too often) skied really well, and we could really rip the head wall taking advantage of the wall to wall soft snow coverage. Once into the main section it skied incredibly nice too.

Saddleback revived their Bronco Buster challenge today. This is a run down Tightline (formerly named Bronco Buster) and if you make it down without stopping or falling you get a early season lift ticket for next year. This would be really challenging with car sized moguls on Tightline but the trail did not mogul up that much so it was just a general run down therefore not too challenging. They had a band playing on the Yurt deck and there were lots of smiles going around so everyone was having a great time.

Here is Isaac's run down Tightline for the Bronco Buster Challenge.

And here is some more video various trails around the mountain. It is remarkable how much snow there is up there for this time of year. The scrub skiing at 0:27 is between Wardens Worry and Frostbite. 0:49 is Wardens Worry. 0:59 is Upper Governor Glade. 1:20 is Governor Headwall. 1:28 Governor Rock Jump (with a little help from us). 1:38 Golden Smelt.

We are winding down our season. One more weekend to go at Saddleback. Not sure if we will make it up next weekend or not. Regardless, it has been a very good ski season in Maine.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Maine Day = Big Fun at Saddleback April 6th 2014

Old Man ripping up Muleskinner
Two of the @MaineSkiFamily gang went up to Saddleback Maine today and had a very good day. The snow was a bit variable, but when you found the good snow, it was soft and fun.

When we got to Saddleback most of the lifts were on wind hold, but as the day went on, the winds subsided and all the lifts opened by mid-day to the delight of the strong Maine-day crowd.

Today the shade and elevation was your friend. It was pretty windy and temps where on the chilly side considering the time of the year. Snow that was in the shade stayed soft as the strong April sun had not 'cooked' the snow and put it through a freeze / thaw cycle, and the top 1/3rd of the mountain held great snow as it has stayed consistently below freezing for the most part. We got some great early tracks down some wind blown snow on Peachy's Peril and Muleskinner held some deep drifts that were a lot of fun. All the upper mountain glades skied exceptionally well.

Jumping for Joy at Saddleback
The snow pack at Saddleback is DEEP. All the trails are absolutely buried and not much sign of spring anywhere. Spring is coming but Saddleback should easily make its projected closing date of Easter weekend.

Spring mostly means mud for us in Maine but at Saddleback Spring = White Gold and big fun.

Skiing is should be great over the next two weekends so go get some!

Here is a video of our runs down Peachy's Peril and Muleskinner.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fantastic March Weekend at Saddleback and Sugarloaf

Saddleback's Upper Nightmare Glade was DEEP this weekend!

Just a quick wrap-up of our fantastic March 23-24, 2014 weekend at both Saddleback and Sugarloaf. Both mountains and skiing really well right now. Deep mid-winter like conditions.

We hit Saddleback on Saturday and skied in some really awesome conditions. We picked up a couple of inches of fresh during the day which made the already soft conditions even softer. The wind picked up along with the snow so the lifts shut down at 2pm. But we were OK as we got some really good turns in. Governor and the Upper Nightmare Glade skied especially well.

We were able to stay with some friends at Sugarloaf and had a great day on Sunday. This was the first time in a long while where we hit Sugarloaf on a really good day. Most everything we wanted to ski was open and skied really well. I took my first venture into Bracket. Overall came away very impressed. I only saw a small fraction of Bracket in the Cant Dog II area but it was a lot of fun. Kudo's to Sugarloaf for opening up this impressive terrain.

Back to the real world but it was a great weekend at two of the finest mountains around with family, friends and a pile of snow!

Great Skiing with Friends at Sugarloaf!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Skiing the big March snow at Titcomb and Saddleback

For any of you that follow my Facebook page you could tell by my the constant weather posts we were pretty pumped up for this most recent snowstorm. The accumulation maps for the Maine mountains kept getting bigger with each forecast run. It is safe to say that the mountains in the Route 2 corridor northward did real well with 12" to 24" being reported!

@AlecPhoto ripping it up at Titcomb Mountain
We wanted to get away after school and work on Thursday to partake in the harvest. We thought about Shawnee, but it looked like they got a period of rain in the middle of the storm. We thought about Mt. Abram, but they stopped their Thursday night skiing for the year. So we made a dash to Titcomb Mountain in Farmington. They reported 14" or so. Titcomb is an area I have not been to in a very long time. When I was a student at the University of Maine at Farmington I spent some time skiing there. It is a small hill (350 vertical feet) serviced by a couple of T-Bars, but it is a great community recreation resource. It is a great learn to ski area with some steep sections to some of the trails to keep it interesting. The T-Bar's are awesome although a bit of a challenge to load. They are run by diesel engines and they have a throttle to control the t-bar speed. We decided any lift with a throttle is cool in our book.

For this evening, they had one of two T-Bar's running. The snow was good but it was a bit heavy. If you stuck to the trails that had been skied up with traffic, the skiing was fun. We hiked over to the other side of the mountain once and while the snow was deep, it was very tough to turn due to the dense quality of the snow. So we stuck to the main section and the boys practiced landing 360's off a kicker. We are very glad we went and experienced a "new" area in some good conditions.

Lots of cover at Saddleback!
On Saturday, we made the day trip to our home mountain Saddleback Maine and we had a very good day. Once again we found the snow to be a bit on the heavy side and it took us a few runs to get our ski legs on. Our last powder experience had been in Utah, and of course that snow was extremely light and fluffy so for this snowstorm it was a bit of an adjustment for us.

Overall it was a very good day. We were able to ski trails we have not been able to ski all year. Black Beauty, Casablanca #4, Upper Jane Craig, Intimidator Glades, Governor all skied very well. (Check out my blog post that describes all the ski trails at Saddleback.) Once again if we stuck to areas that had some skier traffic, the snow held up and skied well. We like to find the untracked snow but again it was tough to move around. So it wasn't quite the 'epic' day we were hoping for, but it was one of our better Maine ski days we have had this year. Saddleback had a nice crowd on the hill so hopefully they had a good revenue day as I say a lot of day lift tickets hanging from jackets.

It is mid-March and we are coming down the home stretch for the ski season in Maine. I would love to see another dump for the mountains of Maine... but they have a pretty decent snow pack to support some spring turns. Nothing like skiing and having sun soaked burgers and suds on the deck at Saddleback or any ski area in Maine!

@Isalisbury harvesting the bumps on Parmacheenee Bell at Saddelback